If you’ve ever gotten lost in a mystery novel or film, you know the excitement of trying to piece together clues and solve the puzzle before the protagonist does. But have you ever stopped to think about why that sense of tension is so crucial to the genre?
Key Mystery Elements
First, let’s define a few key terms.
In a mystery, the protagonist is the main character trying to solve the crime.
The antagonist is often the perpetrator of the crime, but can also be an obstacle or antagonist to the protagonist’s investigation.
There will also have a number of suspects, individuals who could potentially be the antagonist.
A Mystery Without Tension
Imagine a mystery with no tension. The protagonist simply gathers clues and effortlessly narrows down the list of suspects until the true antagonist is revealed with no conflict or challenges. This would likely lead to a boring and unengaging story.
An Invested Reader
On the other hand, if the protagonist is constantly thwarted by the antagonist or faces personal crises that threaten to derail the investigation, the story becomes much more compelling.
The reader is invested in the protagonist’s success and wants to see them overcome the challenges they face.
But tension in a mystery isn’t just about the protagonist’s personal struggles. The puzzle itself should also create a sense of tension. As the reader gathers clues and tries to solve the mystery alongside the protagonist, the feeling of uncertainty and the desire to know the truth creates a sense of tension.
Tension is essential to a mystery because it keeps the reader engaged and invested in the story.
Without it, the puzzle would be too easy to solve and the story would lack the excitement that makes the mystery genre so beloved.
Tips to Add Tension to Your Mystery
Another aspect of tension in a mystery is the use of red herrings. These are false clues that mislead the reader or protagonist and create a sense of confusion. This tension is created because the reader is led to believe that certain suspects or events are connected to the crime, only to find out later that they are not. This adds to the overall puzzle and keeps the reader guessing until the final reveal.
Another way to create tension in a mystery is through the use of a ticking clock, or a sense that time is running out. This could be a literal deadline for the protagonist to solve the crime, or it could be the fear that the antagonist will strike again. This creates a sense of urgency and adds to the overall tension of the story.
Finally, the stakes in a mystery should also be high in order to create tension. If the crime being investigated is minor or the consequences are low, the reader may not feel invested in the outcome. But if the stakes are high, such as a crime with serious personal or societal consequences, the reader will be more invested in the protagonist’s success and the tension will increase.
Tension is a crucial element of a mystery story. It keeps the reader engaged, adds to the puzzle, and increases the stakes. Without tension, a mystery would simply be a series of clues leading to an inevitable outcome, rather than a thrilling and engaging story.
Want to learn more about writing a mystery? Check out Write A Killer Mystery.